What a Poet Can Take from the Muse and the Marketplace

It's never too early to start mentally prepping for next yearMuse and the Marketplace Conference! Get a jump on your #Muse19 strategy with this advice for poets and first-timers from GrubStreet's Development Assistant, Serina Gousby.



On Saturday, April 7th, I attended my first ever Muse and the Marketplace (April 6-8), GrubStreet’s annual writers’ conference. As both a writer and a poet, I struggled for years to find a community of writers who would inspire and motivate me through the times I doubted my journey. Like everyone, writers, in their daily lives, deal with stress, busy schedules, and lack of confidence, and we need periods of fellowship to remind each other not to give up on our writing. That is what the Muse first taught me, the moment I walked up the Boston Park Plaza’s wide staircase to the registration desk.


The sense of family and warmth amongst the crowd was very new to me. I’m the only member of my Boston-based family to identify as a writer and a poet, as well as the only one amongst my closest friends. Although I have been given the support and praise for my work from those individuals, it would have been nice to have a fellow writer-friend who could give me constructive criticism, and whom I could trust with my art. If you’re out there searching for someone like that, the Muse is a great place to start.


Attending Saturday’s sessions and festivities was a treat because I came as both a writer in need of motivation and the Development Assistant who just recently joined the GrubStreet staff. Not only did I have the opportunity to meet writers from all across the country, and hear the impact GrubStreet has had on their careers, but I met some of the incredible donors who have supported this conference for the last seventeen years. One of them includes author, professor, and vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion at UMass Medical School, Deborah Plummer, PhD. Just before the keynote conversation on Saturday morning, Deborah said a few words on how much she believes in GrubStreet’s mission and listed many of the opportunities that GrubStreet creates for writers.

 Serina with friends at the Saturday Morning Keynote.

As a poet, I knew that I might not be the primary audience for the Muse, as most of the sessions spoke to fiction and non-fiction writers. But instead of deterring me, this fact inspired me to get creative. The great thing about being a creative is figuring out how I can use information that’s geared towards a different genre and apply it to poetry. The session that challenged me the most creatively was “Don’t Get Stuck in the Slush! 10 Pitfalls to Avoid When Submitting to Literary Magazines,” led by American Short Fiction editor Nate Brown. Although the language presented throughout the session spoke to fiction writers, I learned so much about how I can improve my writing for submissions. A few tips included: “Avoid filler phrases and empty words,” “No ‘trick’ endings,” and, “If you’re working on a character whose attitudes, actions, decisions, morality, or politics are suspect, alienating, distancing, evil, or noxious, be sure to first treat them with some modicum of empathy.”


The last one is my favorite. Although poetry—particularly free verse—has more of a freedom structure, fiction and poetry are very similar in terms of characters. In my work, I tend to remove myself as the author and allow the “speaker” of the poem to live as its own character. For speakers who carry a level of anger and frustration, I forget to find the empathy in the poem’s message sometimes, so I thought that tip was very helpful. Brown also expressed advice for writers to “remain firmly in the driver’s seat,” especially when you receive criticism. At the end of the day, we are in charge of what’s written and how it is written, and changes to it should strength our work, not diminish it.


Another session I attended was author Henriette Lazaridis’s “The Motivated Writer: Using Athletes’ Techniques to Keep Yourself Going.” Heaven knows how much I needed a session like this. I thought the strategy to use an athlete’s mind frame of training and incorporate that for writers was brilliant. For instance, Lazaridis’s take on “drills” for the writer comprised of focusing on smaller activities, like taking five or ten minutes every day to either study an author, read, or write. I had a hard time over the last few months trying to push myself to do the work and study the greats, and doing small “drills” every day will surely put me back into a groove, a routine in which I can be consistent.


Another great sports lesson is “let the bad workout go.” My eyes were wide open the moment Lazaridis added, “If [the writing is] bad, you can delete it. It doesn’t have to stop your writing career.” I’ve had moments when I received rejections back to back and questioned my ability to write poems. To have a fellow writer tell you that these rejections, shortcomings, and mistakes should not stop you, is what brought it all home for me. Although the message of not giving up seems simple, it’s harder to actually do, so sometimes it takes hearing it from someone else for me to internalize the mantra. The last important lesson is to “be your own coach, be your own eyes.” Writers have a responsibility to their creativity, and that comes with training ourselves to “view our work objectively” and also “de-familiarize ourselves with the work.” I guarantee you that everyone in that room left ready to write and grow, and I was grateful to have that feeling again.


Although #Muse19 is far from our radars, I’m already anticipating the warm and friendly environment that my writing journey needs.


Serina Gousby is a graduate from Suffolk University, where she studied English and Creative Writing, with a minor in Black Studies. She’s been writing poetry since she was fifteen, and has occasionally performed spoken word pieces in the Greater Boston area. Her work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Venture Literary Magazine, The Suffolk Journal, and Paradise in Limbo Literary Magazine. When she is not writing thank you notes for our Grub donors and members, she is either listening to a range of music from Miles Davis to Cardi B, or writing on her lifestyle blog, The Rina Collective.



Check out the video footage of the #Muse18 Keynotes!

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About the Author

(she/her/hers) As the Senior Program Coordinator of the Boston Writers of Color Group, she oversees programming, engage with members through media outlets and monthly BWOC newsletter, and provide opportunities and guidance to self-identifying writers of color. Prior to joining the team in 2018, she has held administrative, marketing and retail positions---beginning in the literary space as the Poetry Editor Intern at Salamander Magazine. As a poet, she has performed at Boston Poetry Marathon, HUBWeek, and Literary Death Match. Serina holds a BA in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing and minor in Black Studies from Suffolk University. When she's not writing poetry, she's either writing on her blog, The Rina Collective, or creating artwork with her calligraphy. 

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